LAWRENCE — The Monday after Thanksgiving was a tough one for Tom Sapienza, a city sewer worker with a dying wife who had been patching together months of unpaid leave to care for her at home.
But the day was a good one for Jose Santiago, the former state representative who was about to come off months of unemployment.
After Sapienza’s leave stretched to five months during which his wife’s cancer spread from her lungs to her brain and became inoperable, Mayor William Lantigua fired him on Nov. 26 for ignoring a demand to return to work.
Nov. 26 was also the first day at work as a laborer in the Water and Sewer Department for Santiago, who had been Lantigua’s political mentor a decade ago, until their friendship turned to rivalry and Lantigua ousted Santiago from the statehouse seat he had held for two terms.
The two remained rivals since, although both declined to be interviewed for this story to determine if they are mending their differences as Lantigua begins campaigning for a second term. Lantigua did not return a message left with a secretary. During a lunchbreak at the city’s water treatment plant, Santiago responded to the request for an interview with a vulgarity.
Acting Public Works Commissioner John Isensee said Sapienza was let go only because his leave had gone on too long.
“There is no end in sight for Mr. Sapienza,” Isensee said yesterday. He said he was able to hold Sapienza’s job for him by filling it with a temporary employee, but said the practice “can go on for only so long.”
The pink slip ended Sapienza’s eight-year career with the Department of Public Works, which began in December 2002, when he was hired to drive snowplows and sanders in the winter and maintain Veteran’s Memorial Stadium in the warmer months. He was laid off for six months by former Mayor Michael Sullivan in 2008, recalled six months later, and laid off again by Lantigua in July 2010.